Bert Hill - Goal:World-class transit

"I have to go pee." With these words, Warren, my two-year-old grandson-in-toilet-training, opened my eyes to an important but overlooked everyday responsibility of public transportation systems. We were at BART's Montgomery Street station where the restroom, as a security measure, had been closed since the aftermath of 9/11.

The San Francisco Bay Area is one of a handful of places recognized worldwide as an aesthetic and technologicala destination. We deserve a world class regional transit system with clean, attractive trains and stations, reliable and frequent service, quiet and comfortable rides, better signage, universal accessibility, seamless connections to other transit, safe waiting areas, and shared fare passes.

For 40 years these goals have been largely a moot point for many residents of San Francisco's northern, western and southeastern districts because they have been poorly served by BART. Despite living in neighborhoods with some of the highest density in the Bay Area and despite having paid sales and property taxes to subsidize BART since its inception, they have been all but ignored.

Instead, BART has continued to extend service towards the Sacramento Delta, the Central Valley, and San Jose via Fremont. But the planning and construction of these extensions to lower density communities has been in response to a decade-old strategic growth plan - instead of one calibrated to 21st century economic realities.

Extending BART to undeveloped areas is likely to compromise its financial ability to meet core system priorities mentioned above while maintaining affordable fares.

Regarding the recently publicized proposal to construct "BART to the beach," it makes sense to begin planning for a such a new major BART subway over the next half century.

However, in the short term, west side riders would be better served by streamlining transit connections, including the adoption of an an integrated fare structure.

Also troubling is BART's penchant for making politically-motivated decisions that are antithetical to a soundly-managed transit system. We have recently heard about an $8 million surplus, a windfall resulting from a partial payment of a State of California grant and higher than expected sales tax revenues in the second quarter of 2010.

It is important to continue to recognize that while service reliability is important, policy makers should not lose sight of their responsibility to provide a safe, clean world-class transit system that serves riders, including the basic human needs of two year olds.

Bert Hill is a 35-year resident of the West of Twin Peaks area, and is a candidate for BART's board of directors for District 8.